cover graphic for Feminist Erotica season 2 episode 1, Feminist Erotica's logo in the top right, with a picture of Amanda Diehl, a white woman wearing sunglasses on a beach, on a white background

In the first episode of Feminist Erotica’s second season, Jera is joined by Amanda Diehl! Amanda’s one of the resident reviewers at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, she runs a romance book club at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and hosts other events for Belmont Books in Belmont, Massachusetts. 

Jera spoke to Amanda about how being an avid romance reader has helped her discover her interests, find her voice, and build confidence in and out of the bedroom. We also spoke about the internalized misogyny in the romance genre and how to read in a critical way.

Follow Feminist Erotica on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and email us with questions/comments/concerns at feministerotica@rebelliousmagazine.com. This episode is sponsored by Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. 

Episode Resources: Follow Amanda on Twitter at @_Imanadult; Add these books to your carts and shelves through the following affiliate links: Rosie Danan’s The Roommate, Cherise Sinclair’s Masters of the Shadowland series and book 1, Club Shadowland, Asking For It by Lilah Pace, Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski; explore more sex and sexuality resources: Emily Nagoski, the Kinsey Institute, Scarleteen; Classic romance books (content warning: sexual assault): The Flame and The Flower and The Wolf and The Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss

Transcript

Voiceover Goddess: Welcome to Feminist Erotica, a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women. Join Jera, Karen, and Princess for stimulating interviews that explore feminist representations of desire as well as short and sweet erotic snippets read by the authors themselves. This episode is sponsored by Just the Tip, Rebellious Magazine’s inclusive sex and relationship advice column, where you’ll find interviews with sexuality, researchers and educators, as well as compassionate responses to anonymous questions. Check it out at rebelliousmagazine.com/just-the-tip.

Jera: Welcome listeners! I am Jera, one of the co-hosts of Feminist Erotica, and joining me today is Amanda Diehl. Amanda is one of the bitches at Smart Bitches Trashy Books. You can find that amazing website full of various reviews and interviews about mostly romance novels at smartbitchestrashybooks.com. Amanda was a former chemistry major and realized that she was going to be miserable at age 40. So she switched to looking into editing, writing, and media and earned an MA in publishing and writing in Boston. She’s been with Smart Bitches Trashy Books for I think, a long time, right? Like how many years?

Amanda: Since 2012.

Jera: Since 2012 as one of the resident reviewers, and also works part-time with an independent bookstore. Are you in Boston or near Boston? Correct?

Amanda: It’s near Boston. Yeah. It’s outside of Cambridge, Mass.

Jera: I feel like anytime we can support independent bookstores at this moment is great, so can you tell us a little bit about the bookstore?

Amanda: Sure. So, I actually help out with two bookstores. One, I run a romance book club at Porter Square Books in Cambridge, Mass. They are a wonderful independent bookstore, and I work at Belmont Books, which is in Belmont, Massachusetts, and they’re also a wonderful bookstore. I’ve had nothing but good things about the book people that I’ve met and that I get to communicate with and work with. It’s been wonderful.

Jera: Awesome. Okay. I saw Belmont attached to your Twitter. So you can find Amanda on Twitter at @_Imanadult and she has the Belmont bookstore linked to it as well. And you should follow Amanda for reviews and other geeking out about books, right? What are you reading right now?

Amanda: So I’m reading The Roommate by Rosie Danan, which is blowing my mind because the hero is a sex worker. He is an adult film star, and I’m just, it’s a lot of fun. I’ve read previous romances that kind of try to tackle sex work and like the pornography industry with disastrous results. So this is kind of the first one that I’m reading that really has a lot more positivity. And, you know, there’s a surprising amount of slut-shaming in the ones that I’ve read previously. So this has been like a little gem to read and I’m enjoying it a lot.

Jera: Nice. Yeah. It’s gotten good reviews. It just recently came out, right?

Amanda: It’ll be out in two weeks.

Jera: Okay. There you go.

Amanda: Yeah.

Jera: So I’m curious, does the author have a relationship to sex work or do you know how?

Amanda: I don’t know. No, I have no idea. That’s a good question. I’d be curious to know if she does, or if there was any sort of like research involved with interviewing and consulting sex workers. Yeah. I’m curious too.

Jera: Yeah. Maybe we will do some research into that and put it in the show notes. What other types of things is your reading niche usually?

Amanda: So I like horror. I’m a huge horror reader. I’m actually putting together this amazing women in horror panel for the bookstore that’s in October. So I read a lot of that, and my romance reading tends to be a little angstier, a little darker, a little sexier. If there’s just kissing in the book, not for me. I want all the bells and whistles. So that’s typically what I gravitate towards. And then non-fiction here or there. I prefer listening to nonfiction, but that’s typically what I go for. And I like sci-fi fantasy every now and then, and kind of all across the board.

Jera: I think a lot of us that are true book lovers are like that. Right?

Amanda: Yeah as long as-

Jera: Can’t pin you down.

Amanda: Yeah, put a good book in front of me, that’s all I care about.

Jera: Where do you find, where do you tend to find books that you love?

Amanda: So I used to work in publishing. I was a publicist and you have access to a lot of newsletters and stuff like that. So Publisher’s Lunch is one, for example, that talks about new book deals that have been made. So I find things that I can look forward to through there. GoodReads. I mean, I don’t-, I mainly use it to keep track of books that I’m interested in. So GoodReads is another one. But I think just by the nature of working at a bookstore, reviewing books, I think staying on top of new releases is part of the job. And I think I also have cultivated a good book community on social media. So a lot of my Twitter contacts and Twitter friends are also readers and I take their suggestions very seriously. Like if they’re tweeting about and loving a book, you know, I immediately Google it and check it out because I trust their opinion.

Jera: Mm. So we talked a little bit before about basically what to talk about in this interview, and I loved your suggestions and it’s actually, I think, shaping what we think of as season two now, the way one of the co-hosts described it as “erotica as a springboard for identity and self-care.” And it was some of the things that you’ve mentioned, but one of the first things you mentioned was that reading erotica or stimu-literature of any genre helped you be a better communicator. And I wondered if you could just expand on that.

Amanda: Sure. So with romance, you know, it does have its problematic issues. Like, you know, the hyper-focus on virginity is something that I struggle with.

Jera: Right.

Amanda: But there are also scenes where the heroine will take agency over what she wants in the bedroom. And, you know, there’s always a running joke of “men don’t know what to do” or whatever, but I think, no matter who you are with in the bedroom, regardless of the partner, I think it’s really important to have an open line of communication. Because we can’t read each other’s minds, and you really have to tell them what you want, you know. One consent is important, so it’s always good to communicate your wants and needs and whether something is or isn’t okay. But it’s also important to reaffirm that your partner’s doing a good job.

Jera: Right.

Amanda: That like, ‘Oh, that’s good. Keep going.’ Or if there’s something new that you want to try. I feel like it’s also helped me get rid of a lot of the shame in asking for what I want in the bedroom. The worst thing you can do is your partner not be interested, and that’s okay. And you just move on. But I think it’s really helped give me the vocabulary to open up a dialogue with my current and past sexual partners. And it’s also helped me be more tuned to my own sexuality, and that it’s okay to be a sexual creature, you know, want those things and experience desire in a kind of unabashed way.

Jera: Are there specific books or scenes that come to mind when you think about things that gave you permission to start asking for what you wanted, or the language?

Amanda: So I guess there are two books that immediately come to mind. One is where I got started in reading these sorts of books. And I was probably, so I’m 31 and this was probably in my late teens, early twenties. I picked up, it’s called the Club Shadowland series by Cherise Sinclair. [Editor’s Note: It’s the Masters of the Shadowlands Series, Club Shadowland is the first book in the series.] And it’s about – and I’m from Florida – and it’s about this kink club, this BDSM club that’s in Tampa, in Tampa, Florida. And it’s just over the top. And to be honest in romance, there are so many kink and sex clubs in erotic romance that I feel like, if all of them existed, you couldn’t throw a stone without hitting one on a street corner.

Jera: Right.

Amanda: So like that was probably my first interaction with BDSM in romance. And that’s something that I’ve gone on to enjoy and explore, and explore with partners. So that definitely opened up a community that I didn’t really know existed before then. And then, the second book and, I don’t know how you feel or what you give in terms of content warnings, but content warning for this book especially: it’s called Asking For It by Lilah Pace. And the main character, it has a great representation of a heroine going to therapy for sexual trauma. But the heroine also realizes that in terms of sex and what arouses her is the setup of like nonconsensual sex. So that sort of roleplay. And I had never seen that before in a romance novel, that playing of non-con stuff, even though it was consensual between both parties. And that’s something that I found so interesting, and I feel like speaks to a lot of the interest I had in like darker romances where like those lines are blurred. And some books don’t always do it well, but I really enjoy – I think it’s a duology – but I really enjoyed that book and how you get to see the main character kind of work through both her trauma, how it relates to her sexuality and her desire, and how she then communicates that to her partner. And how she kind of navigates worrying about judgment or disgust or anything like that.

So those are the two books that are most memorable for me that either had started this journey or were a milestone of sorts. But those two. I mean the Club Shadowland series, it’s not fantastic, but there’s a million of them, and they’re kind of like potato chips. They’re quick reads, but they’re kind of corny, but yeah, I feel like that was my first BDSM erotica that I read and I’m like, ‘Oh, this sounds interesting.’

Jera: Right. Okay. Two things come to mind. First of all, I went to a fetish con for the first time last year.

Amanda: I didn’t know that was a thing.

Jera: It is a thing. It’s predominantly fetish performers that do fetish-oriented porn. And I do fetish clips under a different name, so I went to meet people, and I found out just how Tampa really is. So it makes total sense to me. It’s like there’s, if you’re not in Las Vegas and you’re filming fetish-oriented stuff, the second guess is that you’re going to be in Tampa.

Amanda: I didn’t know that Tampa was a big fetish hub.

Jera: Yeah, I guess so. You know, and it’s weird fetish, not just straight BDSM, but you know, just true fetish stuff as opposed to just straight kink. And then I relate to the darker stuff. In college, I discovered Anne Bishop.

Amanda: Ooo.

Jera: Yeah, and I don’t know that you would say that she writes straight BDSM stuff. I don’t feel like she does, but she explores the darker side of people in very beautiful ways. Especially the Ephemera series as a, like I was attending this small Christian liberal arts college where you’re not even supposed to know that you have genitalia. And I felt so dirty reading this stuff, but also, I think Anne Bishop, I think I owe her the huge thanks for introducing me to this idea that the darker aspects of a person can be just as healing and wonderful. Yeah. So. Sometimes you hold onto those things that you like started with, I guess. Now, you know, it feels like one of those things that happens is like, there’s books that open you up to things, and you need them. And then sometimes you realize that they’re really not all that good, or they’re not all that well-written, and then you’re searching for other things. And then it becomes this hunt. Like who, for instance, who writes about BDSM well? You know?

Amanda: Oh, I feel like I haven’t read a really good BDSM romance in a long time. I feel like a lot of the books that I’ve picked up in the past couple years have been stinkers, where I’m like, ‘This is terrible.’ There was one that had such good potential where this woman gets hired to kind of help plan and architect this new kink club, but she knows nothing about kink. And I feel like the hero took advantage of that? And does these things that I don’t think would fly at all, but I thought, how cool would it be to have a renovation romance, but for like a kink club? And the hero and heroine, like the two main characters argue about where to put placement of certain things or certain items. I think that would be cute and funny, but that’s not what happened. So I feel like I haven’t read any good ones in a very long time. There was one series that I started that I enjoyed, but each subsequent book just got worse. So I wouldn’t even recommend that series. Yeah. That’s depressing that I can’t think of any recent good ones.

Jera: So we’re going to keep brainstorming this, and you should follow Amanda on Twitter, follow us on Twitter @feministerotic. And we will be looking for great new BDSM fiction.

Amanda: And if you have suggestions, give them to me. Always.

Jera: Yes. Exactly. Shout out to us about stuff. I mean, the classic is Kushiel’s Dart series,

Amanda: Yep, Jacqueline Carey.

Jera: Yeah. And Sinclair Sexsmith does some really interesting shorts, but yeah, where’s the good BDSM stuff, folks? It’s interesting to hear this, yeah, it makes sense. You become exposed to characters exploring things, consensual non-consent, that’s awesome. It’s not one that I’ve come across in fiction and that’s, it’s definitely a strong kink of mine and it’s hard to do well. You also talked about that, it’s not just communicating in the bedroom, but you also talked about how it’s helped you communicate with your parents. And I’m curious, outside of the bedroom, how have you learned to communicate better?

Amanda: So I think the core, when it comes to communication is, no one knows what I’m thinking unless I tell them. You know, it’s like, ‘Why are you mad?’ ‘Oh, well, you know what you did.’ And I was like, ‘No, I don’t know what I did. You know, I’m just acting like I normally would.’ You know, perhaps someone hit a button that they didn’t know you had. And also like, I credit this with years and years of therapy.

Jera: Like a strong hand.

Amanda: I am a strong proponent of therapy. I go every other week and we do get conditioned to have this fear about talking about your feelings or being vulnerable. And that is something that I struggle with is making myself vulnerable. But that’s something that comes easily for me in the bedroom, but not necessarily in my everyday life. Does that make sense?

Jera: Yeah, no, I relate to [that]. I feel like by the time you let somebody into the bedroom, there’s hopefully more trust built up that allows for vulnerability that doesn’t exist elsewhere.

Amanda: Yeah. And oddly enough, I feel more comfortable being naked than I do expressing deep feelings that I have. So it’s kind of, being vulnerable in that way has helped me take baby steps to being a more vulnerable person outside of that space.

Jera: Yeah. That makes sense. In my column, Just The Tip, I did this series around chronic pelvic pain where I interviewed a bunch of specialists about it. And one of the things that kept coming up was that everything is connected. Like, oh shoot. I forget the therapist’s name. I’ll include a link to this in the show notes. It’s the therapist I was talking about that when folks come to her with pelvic pain, they often think that it’s just about what’s going on with that specific area of the body. And they don’t realize that it’s all really about control and it’s just like trauma. Trauma is about control. So if you don’t feel in control of your relationship, if you don’t feel in control of your finances, the body manifests it in a very physical way, and you don’t always have control, then, over how the body manifests it. So working on your sense of control then can also help you with your pain issues. And it reminded me of that in the sense of, if you find your voice in one area of your life, then it helps you find your voice and other areas of your life.

Amanda: Definitely.

Jera: So books. Romance novels get pigeonholed as being very dramatic or melodramatic, which is also then what women and queer folks are told is our issue. It feels like one of the stumbling blocks in finding our voice is like, ‘Well, if we find our voice and we become too much, right.’ So how do you see, as a reader like, do you grapple with this with characters? Like, ‘Oh, this character is being melodramatic’ or, ‘Oh, this character is being logical’ or how does it help you find your own sense of voice then?

Amanda: So I do think in romance, there’s a lot of internalized misogyny. And I see this a lot and sometimes I have to check myself as well, that sometimes we’re harder on the women in a book than we are on the male characters. They can get away with a lot, but as long as they have a good grovel at the end, it’s fine. But you know, there’s frequently an evil hyper-sexualized ex in the book, or like I said, the focus on virginity or, you know, if the heroine’s too selfish for wanting certain things. And it’s not hypocritical, but it’s a weird dichotomy that romance is, and kind of positions itself as, this feminist bastion of reading material. And a lot of it is. But in a lot of ways, we uphold certain things that I think are harmful to sexual health and how we express ourselves.

So it’s kind of mixed messaging. And it’s like, what do you pick up from reading these books? Do you pick up that, virginity is something to be prized and a man will be disappointed if you’re not a virgin? Or do you pick up the fact that, you know, a woman is trying to own her sexual experiences and her sexual identity? It varies from book to book, and it’s like, what do you take away? And I feel like a lot of romances coming out now really address that. But if you’re like me and you start reading these books when you’re like 15 or 16, getting them at your library, finding them in a bin in the shed somewhere, you know, they used to be your mom’s. Like, if that’s your first experience, I can understand why people are like, ‘Ooh, maybe not for me.’

So romance has evolved. And I always think that when someone says they don’t like romance novels, I just think, ‘Well, you haven’t found your niche yet. Have you been reading historicals? Well maybe try contemporaries.’ So I think kind of it’s important when and how you pick up romances, like which ones you kind of start with. Cause I can understand if someone picked up an old Bertrice Small book where a woman’s getting kidnapped and you know, sexually assaulted, if someone’s like, ‘Oh, I definitely do not want this.’ So it’s hard because there are a lot of people, their vision of romance hasn’t moved past like Fabio, you know?

Jera: Right. Yeah. And there’s also this tension between writing realistic, flawed characters and writing a vision of the world you want to see. And then also, just that the authors were all, I think, because we all grew up entrenched in patriarchy that we’re still learning how it affects us. And authors are learning that along with us. How do readers have a voice in terms of, I guess, reviews, right? Like how do you call out authors when you see these things about like, this is something that needs to change in these books?

Amanda: So reviews definitely. But I think the biggest problem in terms of publishing is that these things have gotten to a point where they’re being published in the first place. And there wasn’t someone along the line of, whether it was in acquiring it or editing it, that someone didn’t say, ‘Hey, wait a minute-‘

Jera: Right.

Amanda: ‘Let’s look at this.’ I mean, it was only a few years ago. So Sarah, who runs the website Smart Bitches, is Jewish. And a few years ago there was a book nominated for a Rita award that was a romance between a Nazi officer and a Jewish woman who can pass as Aryan. And like, how is this nominated for an award? And it makes you question like, was there no one in the publishing process that saw this as harmful? So yes, readers can definitely call it out and reviews, but I also think some of the responsibility is on the industry as well to check harmful stories or harmful scenes like that. It’s a group effort.

Jera: Yeah, definitely. That makes sense. So we talked about finding your voice and becoming a better communicator, and you talked a little bit about how it’s helped you explore your own sexuality by finding these various things that you’re interested in. I feel like a lot of this happened, we think that it happens at least more when we’re sort of young and naive and don’t know what we like, but can you talk a little bit about how you continue to be surprised by yourself and your identity through reading?

Amanda: Yeah! So I feel like I didn’t have my big sexual awakening until I was 27-ish. I had gotten out of a long-term relationship and I had just moved to Boston. I grew up in a very small town in Florida. You know, I did my bachelor’s in Tallahassee, so not like a metropolis is where I’m from. And so I moved to New England. I had a breakup that was not great. And I was feeling really shitty. And then I discovered Tinder and my whole world changed. Tinder had just come out and I just kind of really embraced, I was very busy. I was doing grad school. I had an internship, I had a job. I had no time for anything else, but I still miss that kind of physical connection with other people. And so like, I just kind of slutted it up for a while and I loved it.

It was a lot of fun. It gave me such confidence to just be upfront with my partners. It’s like, ‘Hey, I’m honestly just looking for someone to have like sexual fun with as a kind of stress release because I’m so busy. And like, I don’t want anything, I don’t want a relationship cause it just got out of one. And I just kind of want to experience, I don’t know, other people. Multiple people.’ So yeah, I feel like coming from a small, very conservative town. We didn’t have sexual education, like sex ed was abstinence and you know, that sort of thing. But I don’t know, sowing my wild oats was a lot of fun and I feel like I wouldn’t have had not necessarily the confidence, but – maybe it is the confidence to be like, ‘Hey, you know, I know some people are looking for relationships on here. Some people see this as a hookup app. It depends on what you want. But I want to take control of that part of my life.’ And I did, and it was great. And then my boyfriend of four and a half years I met on Tinder.

Jera: Nice.

Amanda: So it was funny. I did a podcast on Smart Bitches about my Tinder experiences and everyone had codenames in my phone and you know.

Jera: Mhm.

Amanda: But after I went on my first date with my now boyfriend, Eric, he Googled my name and found that podcast.

Jera: Oh no.

Amanda: And listened to it. I was like, Oh. You know. You know, he wasn’t scared off or anything.

Jera: Sure.

Amanda: Which I totally respect cause you know, some people would be. You know, your sex number sometimes is more important to people, which I don’t understand. But yeah, I don’t know if the age at which I felt more in control of my sexuality is later than others, but I don’t regret the age at which I started.

Jera: Oh no. Yeah. I started well, Christian baggage. I didn’t start having sex until I was 26. And my only regret about that is that I didn’t get the HPV vaccine because of it. Cause I had absolutely no reason, I thought, to visit a gynecologist until I was sexually active. And then it was too late. I think they’re starting kids, folks out on it yet younger now.

Amanda: Yeah.

Jera: So it’s just not as much of an issue, but I’m old. Yeah. I definitely have that experience of being grateful that I started later because I had a little more confidence and vocabulary around what I wanted when I started. But I think what I meant, and maybe, maybe this is just a timeline question like, were the books that you were reading then where you figured out that you were interested in BDSM and con non-con and stuff? Was that all that same time then? Or did that come earlier?

Amanda: I would say it started earlier, so I would say it started late teens, so.

Jera: Right, right. You said that.

Amanda: Well, so I know this is a hot topic in queer communities. I see myself as bisexual, but I know certain people struggle with that definition cause bi means two, but in my opinion, that definition for me, which I guess overlaps with pansexual, is like someone’s gender doesn’t factor for me in terms of sexual and romantic attraction. You know, I have varying limits in terms of like, ‘Oh, well I’m more sexually attracted to women and I’m more romantically attracted to men or, or whatever.’ But I feel like that started taking root in who I am as a person kind of like mid-to-late teens. And then I would say kink community stuff, late-ish to early, late teens, early twenties. And then I can’t remember when Asking For It by Lilah Pace came out. I know I was living in Boston. So within the last seven years-

Jera: Okay.

Amanda: when I read it.

Jera: Let’s catch up and then relay, like you’re going through this, what I think is a very common like, grad school slut festival. I went through it. Because like you can’t, you’re needy. Like you need things, but you don’t have the emotional bandwidth-

Amanda: You’re just exhausted as a grad student.

Jera: Yeah. Were there, did there continue to be books that you could come, you could return to, or that you found that that supported this?

Amanda: Ooh, I don’t know. There is one book that I love, it’s not fiction and it’s a book that I kind of try to recommend or give to everyone and it’s Come As You Are by Emily Nagorski.

Jera: Oh, nice. Okay.

Amanda: It kind of really, not necessarily simplified sexual health and sexual desire, but it made it not as scary, I suppose. Because I’m sure you understand this with Christian baggage, your knowledge of sexual health and sex in general is so limited, and you get conditioned to think of it as scary or something bad. And to kind of have these things, like why your body responds a certain way or, you know, that sort of thing kind of laid out in a pretty like, you know, ‘This isn’t anything to be ashamed of. This isn’t anything scary. These are the facts,’ has kind of helped with easing some of the stigma about being, you know, an attendee of the slut festival.

Jera: Yeah. Yeah. I think once again about finding your voice. It seems related that, if you can find somebody that talks about things in a different way, it can help change your opinion of it, which we potentially did not have access to growing up. I remember my sex education in eighth grade was this person passing around a candy bar and relating that to your sexual purity.

Amanda: Oh no.

Jera: Yeah. Once you ate it, it was all gone. It’s like, this is not the answer-

Amanda: But you had a good time eating it though. You can just get another candy bar.

Jera: Oh, I feel so bad for all of us, and I do hope things are changing. And I’m glad that there are people like Emily Nagoski and the Kinsey Institute, at least they were. They did have a great blog going for college students, and also Scarleteen. There are resources out there, which is great. You’re talking about the issues with the romance genre and how it needs to change. But as a reader, how do you suggest reading things with a critical eye in order to get the things out of it that we need to get out of it, permission to be a sexual person, doing these journeys with these characters to find your voice and sexuality, how do you do that while not absorbing its issues and its repetitive patriarchal conditioning?

Amanda: I feel like I’m in a position of expertise, I suppose. I feel like it’s easy for me cause I’ve been doing it for awhile. And I feel comfortable with myself and who I am and my sexuality, you know, once again thanks to therapy. Shout out to my therapist, Katie. So I think it’s easier for me because I’ve been reading romance for a decade and a half at this point. I’ve experienced the bad stuff and for new readers it might be harder. And I think that’s where the romance community comes in.

Jera: Yeah.

Amanda: So part of, one of the things I do for the site is I put together like daily books on sale, and sometimes I’ll throw in an older title that some people might have started reading romance from like, for example, was The Flame and The Flower by Kathleen Woodiwiss or The Wolf and The Dove by Kathleen Woodiwiss, and those books are just chock full of sexual assault.

Jera: Hm.

Amanda: And so, you know, people might be interested in having it for a nostalgia purpose. But there are so many people who chime in. It’s like, ‘Listen, I started with this book, but I’m telling you, not worth it. You might wanna. You might think it’s part of the romance canon and that like, you need to do your due diligence and read the classics, but save your time and your energy and your anger and your frustration.’ So I think kind of crowdsourcing these books has been really helpful. I know GoodReads can be a bit of a trash fire sometimes, but some people there are super detailed in their reviews of like, ‘These are the content warnings you have to look out for so you’re not surprised’ or, you know, I also try not to pass judgment on what readers like to read.

Jera: Sure.

Amanda: You know, something might not be for me, but I guarantee you there’s a dozen readers who were like, ‘Well that’s for me. You know, you might not like that, but that’s like that ticks all my boxes.’ So I feel that the romance community has been a bit of a boon when it comes to, I dunno, feeling like we’re all in this together. We want to get the good parts out and kind of ignore the bad parts, but also contribute to making the genre better.

Jera: Makes sense.

Amanda: Yeah. So I mean, it’s easier for me, but you know, I’m not perfect. I look to other readers that I trust for commentary on books that I’m thinking about, or especially, you know, readers who read genres that I’m not as familiar with. But yeah, never be afraid to ask someone like, Hey, did you read this? What did you think? What were your takeaways?

Jera: Yeah, I think that’s a great answer. I’ve definitely done it when I’ve been looking at what books I want to invest in. I will look at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, read their review because the site and the people that review for it are so great at being fair about pointing out the issues, and also pointing out what it does. Well, I think that all of us are learning how to recondition ourselves or de-conditioned ourselves. And I think you’re right that the community is just a part of that because we don’t know what we’re not aware of yet.

Amanda: Yeah.

Jera: So there’s sites like Smart Bitches Trashy Books and the related podcasts, which does a great job of going in depth with different authors. There’s GoodReads. There’s Twitter.

Amanda: But I can understand if you don’t want to be on Twitter right now. I get it.

Jera: Right? Totally. Is there, do you have any thoughts, like things that I didn’t ask you about that you think are really relevant to this conversation?

Amanda: Oh, I don’t know. I just, I feel like people should in general, experiment more with everything. With your reading, with the food you choose to eat, the places you choose to go, the things you do in the bedroom. Variety is the spice of life, I suppose. There’s nothing wrong with trying something new, but no, I don’t there’s anything that I have left unsaid, I suppose.

Jera: Nice. I just want to add that, one of the things that we thought about doing with this podcast, I think we’re very hesitant to – we being the co-hosts – we’re very hesitant to recommend books, especially books we haven’t read because of this idea of wanting to support feminist values. And one idea we came up with was like creating basically a Bechdel test for feminist literature. And we’d been going through and just thinking about things like, ‘Well, what does make something feminist?’ Obviously enthusiastic consent is up there, characters having this journey of self discovery and being whole characters and not just objectified for the point of getting off. So when you think about things that make specific romantic texts or erotic texts feminist, is there anything else that comes to mind?

Amanda: So you mentioned the idea of whole characters. One of the things that I feel like is important to me as a, you know, self-proclaimed feminist is, kind of having an identity that is wholly my own and not being tied to the happiness of another person. And sometimes I see a lot of romance where a main character will do a lot of self-sacrificing for the other person. And I fully believe life shouldn’t be like that. You should be able to come together as two separate people and form something complementary rather than having to chip away pieces of yourself to make things work. That’s important to me as a reader. I don’t know if that makes something feminist or contributes to that definition. I fully believe, you know, in terms of the age old question of like ‘Is a stay-at-home mom feminist?’ You know, if a woman is happy and that’s the direction she wants to go, then have at it. And I feel that way about my reading too, is that, you know, I want the people I read about to be happy with themselves and their choices, and not have that happiness hinge on anything else.

Jera: Yeah. I love that answer and it’s good relationship advice in general. It’s sometimes hard to keep in mind because there is this ethic or ethos of sacrificing for your partner and the idea that selfishness is bad. So it’s a hard balance to find.

Amanda: Oh yeah. I feel like this all 2020, it’s a little different, but I feel like a recent lesson that I’ve learned in therapy is, ‘Selfishness is not a four-letter word.’ You know what I mean? Growing up we’re taught that being selfish is bad, but as you get older, you realize that being selfish is self-care. Sometimes, you know, that’s what you have to do to maintain some equilibrium, to just take care of yourself emotionally and physically is quote, unquote, be selfish.

Jera: So a call to action for listeners to end on is Be Selfish in Your Book Choices. Read the things that bring you pleasure, that delight you, that bring you joy no matter how silly, no matter what the cover looks like. Any book recommendation to end on?

Amanda: Oh, that’s tough. I mean, I will say so. If you want a burn-it-all-down, angry feminist, spooky read-

Jera: Yes.

Amanda: I highly recommend, it’s called The Year of the Witching by Alexis Henderson. It’s, I think her debut. It is so cathartic to read. I really enjoyed it. So that is the one book recommendation I will pass along.

Jera: I love it. Thank you for that.

Amanda: You’re welcome.

Jera: I guess that’s all I have. We’ll be looking for those recommendations for hot, awesome BDSM books. All right. Have a good day.

Amanda: Thank you Jera.

Voiceover Goddess: Feminist Erotica is a podcast from Rebellious Magazine for Women hosted by Jera Brown, Princess McDowell and Karen Hawkins. If you have an idea for a future episode or want to share your thoughts, we’d love to hear from you. Email us at feministerotica@rebelliousmagazine.com. Follow us on Instagram at feministeroticapodcast, on Facebook at Feminist Erotica and on Twitter @feministerotic and make sure you subscribe to us wherever you devour podcasts.

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